Understanding the term ‘spirit’ in context

‘The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists.’ (Isaiah 19v3)

‘The Lord has poured into them a spirit of dizziness; they make Egypt stagger in all that she does, as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.’ (Isaiah 19v14).

When I first began this exploration of the different uses of the term ‘spirit’ in the Old Testament, little did I imagine the wealth of understanding that would be picked up along the way. Some are obvious like the reference to God’s Spirit. Others less so where the  term  refers to an emotional state such as my ‘spirit was crushed.’

In the first of these two scriptures (Isa 19v3) we learn that the people achieve nothing because rather than seeking the living God they focused their efforts on consulting idols and the dead. This may have partly  inspired by the idea that the dead – having transited this world to another – might be in a place where they could affect change for the petitioner – though it may just as easily be superstitious nonsense. However, the people’s  approach to spiritists would have been an act of disobedience as they were instructed to have nothing to do invoking such people – as seen in King Saul’s visit to the witch at Endor to ask her to elicit Samuel from the dead so that he could seek advice (I Sam 28). The fact that Saul disguised himself for the trip so that he would not be recognised , tells us everything we  need to know about his conscience and how he knew what he was doing was wrong.

In the second scripture, the ‘spirit of dizziness’ (Isa 19v14) is no spirit at all and is better rendered a  ‘sense of panic and confusion coming upon them.’  Here, it is important to note that nothing evil resides in God. The sense of uneasiness that came upon them was attributed to God as if like a spirit  flowing from God and into them – but , in reality,  the Egyptians were overwhelmed by a sense of fear that rendered them incapable and paralysed to act  – in the same way that people become incapable when drunk. The spirit that came upon  them was not from God but a manifestation of  guilt, fear and consequence about themselves and their actions.


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